Based on the classic novel by mystery author Agatha Christie that was later adapted as the Broadway hit Ten Little Indians, And Then There Were None begins with ten characters, each with a skeleton in his or her closet, on a remote island off the English coast. They soon realize that they have been brought there by an insane judge, who has tried each of them for criminal behavior in the past, and who now feels it is his duty to render proper justice for each. The struggle to stay alive begins as each "guest" is eliminated in a fashion that corresponds to the titular nursery rhyme. Walter Huston, Louis Hayward, and C. Aubrey Smith are among those marked for death. The film's ending differs from that of the novel, and later remakes in 1966, 1975, and 1989 (all using the title Ten Little Indians), alternated between Christie's original finale and this film's climax. Depending on one's taste, the film's pacing is either excruciatingly slow or suspenseful, but the storyline has become a cinematic staple in everything from horror (Theatre Of Blood) to satire (Murder By Death).
Director: René Clair
Runtime: 97 min
Genre: Murder Mystery
C. Aubrey Smith
By Kevin Matthews
Based on a classic whodunnit by Agatha Christie, And Then There Were None is a wonderful film that should be held in high regard by thriller and horror fans, due to the influence it has had over the years.
It is, in essence, a bodycount movie. Eight people are invited to an island, where they are welcomed by a husband and wife duo who have been recently hired by the mysterious host. After everyone has settled in, a record is played and a voice accuses everyone in attendance of being guilty of some crime that went unpunished. And then people start to die, one by one and in a similar fashion to the fates of the characters described in the rhyme, Ten Little Indians. As an extra way to toy with the other potential victims, the ten little Indians are displayed as part of a centrepiece on the dining table. And one is broken/removed each time a death occurs. Can the guests find out who their host is before they're all killed?
Adapted for the screen by Dudley Nichols, this version of the tale (and many subsequent versions) actually adheres more to the stage play than the source novel. Strict censorship of the time meant that this was the better way to go, which isn't to say that this feels like a light, tame piece of work. It remains a highly effective thriller, with real tension built up throughout, leading to a third act that even today manages to have viewers on the edge of their seat.
Director Rene Clair does well enough by the material. A number of deaths occur offscreen, but what counts are the moments of investigation and deductions made, be they right or wrong, as the survivors work against whatever time limit the killer has given them.
The cast, for the most part, do a good job. Barry Fitzgerald, Walter Huston and Richard Haydn are the standouts, Louis Hayward and June Duprez are just fine, while Mischa Auer, Roland Young, C. Aubrey Smith, Queenie Leonard, Judith Anderson and Harry Thurston complete the roll call. As inevitably happens with this kind of film, some people barely get to make an impression, but the main players are easy to warm to as they find themselves in increasing danger.
Despite a streak of comedy as black as coal, and one or two moments that border on the farcical, this is a pretty straight murder mystery. It is also, until the final reveal and explanation, quite simple. That doesn't make it any less enjoyable, however, and many fans will enjoy the brilliant purity of the premise, a template that has been oft-repeated with wildly varying results.